Friday, June 27, 2008

Initial Draft Recap

I'm sure I will have more detailed opinions in the days to come, but I wanted to be sure to slam out some initial thoughts on the 2008 NBA Draft. Considering the relative lack of strength at the top of the draft, but the depth throughout, I thought there would be several teams making great showings tonight. Instead, there were just a handful of really effective drafts and a whole lot of mysteries. Here were the highlights and lowlights:

The Big Winners

Portland - What a shocker. Kevin Pritchard is just mopping the floor with the rest of the GM's in the league. I personally was even more excited when it looked like they had Bayless and Arthur in the fold with a chance to add Chalmers and CDR as well, but then I realized that they already have too many players on the roster. A "boil down" trade was inevitable. I have no idea what to make of this Batum fellow, but the word is that he could have been a lottery pick had he avoided the cloud of medical uncertainty in the weeks leading up to the draft (I found it ironic that Portland drafted one guy with medical questions - Arthur - and then traded him for the other guy with medical questions). And as I'm fond of pointing out, there is a real lack of quality young small forwards in the NBA pipeline these days, so even if the odds are long that Batum works out and becomes a Rudy Gay type, you probably have to take that chance.

Besides, this isn't about Batum anyway, or even the 413 future picks they stockpiled. This is about landing the guy that in my mind is the third best player in this draft and the ideal running mate for Brandon Roy. Seriously, how in the world did KP land Jerryd Bayless? He has good size, can stretch the floor with his shooting, take the pressure of off Roy, guard quicker point guards, and do everything else Portland needs at the position. He gets dinged for being a combo guard, but I find that hypocritical, since people love combo guards these days. And as I've mentioned repeatedly in regard to Mario Chalmers, the Blazers don't need a pure point since Roy has so many playmaking skills. Bayless is absolutely perfect. Plus, he's just a really good player. I'm on record predicting that Bayless will join the Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, and Danny Granger group of college studs that were projected as top-five picks only to inexplicably slide down to double digits. Another fantastic draft for Portland.

Grade: A

Miami - The other team that just killed it tonight was Miami. They resisted the urge to trade the #2 pick and wound up with a 20-10 machine in Michael Beasley. He will be able to play the 4 and allow Marion to run the floor at the 3, or they can go small and play them at the 5 and 4, respectively. I could never understand the rumors suggesting that Miami wanted to avoid Beasley - the guy is 19 years old and coming off a 26 and 12 season as a college freshman. Yikes.

That said, Beasley wasn't even my favorite pick for Miami. I know this comes as no surprise to any of you, but I thought the trade for Chalmers was brilliant. I'm just absolutely sure that Chalmers is going to wind up being one of the top 10 players in this draft, so to get him for two future second rounders is insane. Not only that, but all the things I said about Super Mario being perfect for Portland apply to Miami. Just as the Blazers run their offense through Roy, the Heat obviously do the same with D Wade. Miami needs a guy who can alleviate ball pressure, hit threes, add speed to the lineup, and guard opposing point guards. Check, check, check, check. I was so dismayed for Chalmers when he slipped out of the first round and felt even worse when he wound up in Minnesota backing up OJ Mayo (you know, back when OJ Mayo was on the Wolves, for all of three hours). The Miami trade was sweet redemption. And now the Heat have 4/5 of a legit starting lineup and are right back in the mix in the East. Oh, and they also grabbed another rotation guy in the wildly underrated Darnell Jackson.

(By the way, isn't it weird that so many underrated draft steals came from Kansas, winner of the national title? You would think the exposure would send the needle the other way, but I suppose their balanced attack suppressed the stats enough to generate a bunch of great value picks. Kind of odd.)

Grade: A

Other Winners

Nets - I didn't love the Jefferson trade earlier in the day, but I thought they had a really good draft. Brook Lopez doesn't strike me as a world beater, but anyone who can go for 20 a night as a center in the Pac-10 is probably good enough to take at #10 in a draft thin on stars. The Ryan Anderson pick at #21 was puzzling considering that Darrell Arthur was on the board, but New Jersey more than made up for that when they snagged Chris Douglas-Roberts at #40. That's right, 4-0. What on earth? I've seen some slights in my day, but this was bizarre. CDR can score, defend, play multiple positions, run the break, handle the ball ... I mean, what more do teams want? I promise you that he will be better than at least 25 of the guys drafted before him.

Grade: B+ B

Rockets - Brilliant work by Houston to grab Nicolas Batum at #25, knowing that they could hold the Spurs or Blazers ransom. They wound up extracting both Darrell Arthur (only the steal of the draft) and Joey Dorsey (really the perfect guy to add to the Rockets mix) when they started with just the 25th pick in a sketchy draft. Impressive. Arthur was already a top 7-8 type player in this draft by my estimation and now I think he will be a man possessed to make the whole world pay for this weird kidney rumor that cost him a whole lot of money. The Scola-Landry duo was effective at power forward last year for Houston, but those guys better have their hard hats on if they are going to hold off the super talented and now highly motivated Arthur.

[Update: It turns out that the Rockets moved Darrell Arthur to Memphis for Donte Greene. I still liked that they manufactured the #33 pick - Dorsey, who should help - by snatching a player desired by the Blazers and Spurs at #25, but I was a much bigger fan of Arthur than Greene.]

Grade: B+

Bulls - It would have been an A had they taken CDR instead of Sonny Weems at #39 (and I even like Weems), but as it stands, they get high marks just for taking Derrick Rose, who may wind up being a transcendent player.

Grade: B+

The Mysteries

The Late Trade - I'm still trying to wrap my head around the Memphis-Minnesota trade. Let me state first that if we are confused about this one, it probably shouldn't come as any surprise. I mean, it's Kevin McHale and Chris Wallace here. And I guess that is the only explanation. Because seriously ... what the hell?

Minny had the chance to draft Love at #3 but clearly thought it was a better idea to take Mayo as a bargaining chip. But all they used that for was to bring in Mike Miller and the horrible Brian Cardinal contract. But that's beside the point - my biggest complaint with this trade for the Wolves is that they now are building their team around a below-the-rim lowpost duo of Love and Al Jefferson. They are going to give up 110 points a game.

As for the Grizzlies, they are truly hopeless. Who knows, maybe they are trying to arm themselves for a run at Beasley or another cost-cutting fiasco, but as it currently stands, they have about 19 guards on their roster. Seriously, the solution to the Conley-Lowry-Crittenden logjam at point guard is to bring in OJ Mayo (and Marco Jaric)? Nice. The good news is that they used the #28 pick to take Donte Green, who can now sit behind Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick. This team is a complete train wreck.

I know people think this was a blockbuster trade and I guess it was, but when you consider that these two squads are going to win about 35 games combined next year, I just have a hard time getting too worked up about the whole thing. In fact, I'm really just bummed that Mike Miller won't be going to a contender in exchange for cap relief and a sack of used Kleenex.

[Update: Somehow, the Arthur acquisition made things so much better for me. Now they at least have a guy to play at every position on the floor - PG Conley/Lowry, SG Mayo, SF Gay, PF Arthur, C Marc Gasol. They have still made a flurry of terrible moves, but if they can turn Conley into a legit big and let Lowry play the Chalmers/Bayless role next to a playmaking 2, they might be on to something. Perhaps a post on this is in order.]

The Bucks - So let me get this straight ... they trade for Richard Jefferson and then go ahead and take a small forward with the #8 pick? What are these people doing? There were so many guys who could help Milwaukee in this draft but instead they took a guy who has to ride pine behind RJ. Why? The good news though is that they drafted the crappy Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at #37. Oh wait, he's a small forward as well. John Hammond really is a genius.

The Bobcats - If I understand things correctly, the plan for Charlotte was to somehow land a center so they could move Okafor to the 4, Wallace to the 3, Richardson to the 2, and roll with Felton at the 1. So when Brook Lopez fell to them at #9, what did they do? Take 5' 11" DJ Augustin, of course! Then, at #20, they used Denver's pick to snag workout wonder (and certain bust) Alexis Ajinca. Bravo. They could have had Lopez and Chalmers and instead ... well, you know what they got. Of course, as a Blazer fan, I loved the Bobcats tonight. They kept snagging all the rumored guys I didn't want Portland to draft. Thanks, MJ!

The Pacers - It's like the Pacers didn't know how to take advantage of their good fortune after the Jermaine O'Neal trade. They stumbled into Bayless at #11, but quickly traded away a potential All-Star for a nice, but limited role player in Brandon Rush. This might have been okay except that Rush will hardly ever see the floor behind Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy. And then they looked the Darrell Arthur gift horse in the mouth and decided to snag the plodding Roy Hibbert instead. In a draft like this, with dozens of intriguing guys, Indiana should have been able to make a real killing. I'm not feeling it.

The Sonics - Seattle had six picks, including the #4 overall, and when they roll out their new roster next year they will probably feature just Russell Westbrook as their first guard off the bench and D.J. White as the 9th man. Not exactly a haul. I'm starting to wonder if maybe Sam Presti is a lot better at acquiring picks than he is at making them. Look, I'm not saying that the fourth spot was one I would have enjoyed, but I think you have to do better than the poor man's Mario Chalmers. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The Wizards - I guess Washington thinks they are closer to the promise land than the rest of us, because they found a way to turn the #18 and Bill Walker into project center JaVale McGee and some money. What's the plan here?

Random Picks I Really Liked

Marreese Speights - This was a quiet but terrific pick by the Sixers. I don't know what people were watching last year, but this guy can play. He's got great hands and can run the floor. I expect him to play right away for the Sixers.

J.J. Hickson - I have no idea why, but I have a good feeling about this one for the Cavs.

Courtney Lee - I thought the Magic did a good job of keeping their focus. With all kinds of players dropping to them it would have been easy to abandon the game plan, but they wanted Lee and they got their man. He is an immediate upgrade over Mo Evans and just has the appearance of a legit NBA player. I can't put my finger on why, but he just looks right.

Kyle Weaver - He's similar enough to Tayshaun Prince that I can see Larry Brown loving this guy and giving him run late in the season despite the fact that Weaver is A) a rookie and B) stuck behind Gerald Wallace and Jared Dudley at small forward.

Bill Walker - Boston is going to rue the day they passed on CDR at the end of the first round (for all-world knucklehead J.R. Giddens), but they helped ease the pain by stealing Walker away from Washington for a bag of cash. He has the versatility to spell Ray Allen some next year and also replace a bit of what Posey did should the latter leave via free agency.

Malik Hairston - My only worry with Hairston is that he's not terribly fast, but I guess that's okay because the Suns are trying to become as slow as humanly possible. There's nothing more depressing than what Steve Kerr is doing to that franchise, but I do think Hairston can give them what they were hoping Alando Tucker could provide last year.

The Bold Predictions

Some of these have already been hinted at if not spelled out completely, but here we go:

1. Mario Chalmers will join the likes of Gilbert Arenas, Monta Ellis, and Carlos Boozer as a second round pick that gets paid lottery pick dollars. His skill set is so perfect for both the modern NBA and for the Heat that I can't imagine him failing. Prediction 1A: Chalmers will be a better NBA player than Russell Westbrook, who went a mere 30 picks higher.

2. Darrell Arthur and CDR will combine to score 30 ppg by their second year in the league.

3. The best forward Golden State drafted tonight will wind up being Richard Hendrix (#49 overall) and not lottery pick Anthony Randolph.

4. Jerryd Bayless will make at least two All-Star games despite playing on a loaded Portland team.

5. Courtney Lee will be the starting shooting guard for the 2009 Eastern Conference champions.

6. Michael Beasley will average at least 22 and 10 next year and win the Rookie of the Year award. (And I'm not ruling out an MVP for Wade.)

7. Malik Hairston will play more minutes for Phoenix next year than uber stiff Robin Lopez.

8. Alexis Ajinca will never play in the NBA.

9. Marreese Speights will make the All-Rookie team.

10. The Bucks will start the first-ever All Small Forward Team.

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